The Path to Freedom

Romans 7:24-25 (NKJV) 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 8:1 (NKJV) 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

As we study the Grace of God in the book of Romans we come to the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of one of the most important chapters in the Bible. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Its fullest manifestation came in the ministry of Jesus and the salvation he brought to man. Thank God that we are saved by grace not by keeping the law. We are not saved by works. There were no works that we could do that would have negated the sin nature that came upon man in the fall.

We were saved by grace through faith. No one is excluded, and no one has any right to boast. Jesus paid the whole price for the sin of mankind. There is nothing more we need to do to be saved and inherit heaven as our eternal home but believe.

Romans 7, however reveals that we still need to deal with the flesh. The law, more specifically the commandments, have not gone away. We still must not steal, murder or lie. Under normal circumstances, these things will not cause us to lose our salvation, but they do open the door to the work of the enemy in our lives. They also damage our testimony. Finally, and most important, they cause us to displease our Father.

Galatians 5:24 (NKJV) 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires..

Paul makes it clear that if we are Christ’s we have crucified the flesh. On the one hand that is a spiritual reality. In Galatians 2:20 Paul says “I am crucified with Christ.” That is reality in the spirit. Paul also wants us to know how to make that a lifestyle reality. He says that crucifixion must manifest in dealing with the flesh. If we have crucified the flesh we have dealt with its passions and desires.

The King James uses the stronger word for desires, lusts. A lust is any desire that controls. If I am Christ’s I can have desires for many things. I cannot let them control me. Somehow, I must deal with these controlling and often ungodly desires and appetites. If I do not I will never fulfill what I can be in Christ. My testimony and my destiny will be compromised. I may “miss hell and make heaven” but there is so much more to this life than just getting by and not being too bad until we get to heaven.

Romans 7 is Paul letting us know 3 things.

1. The problem is not the Law of God. The Law is good and has its purpose even in the life of the New Testament believer.

2. The Law cannot save us. It reveals what is wrong, but it is a “tutor” to lead us to something far better (Galatians 3:24-25.)

3. Even those who are saved and have some degree of maturity struggle with the flesh. We do what we should not do, and we do not do what we know we should. Keeping the letter of the Law is not the solution.

Paul’s final words in Romans 7 paint both a sad and hopeful picture. He is wretched when he lets his flesh dominate him. However, he knows that God has provided a way out. What is that way out. How can we successfully deal with the lusts and appetites of the flesh? Some would say we do not need to. Whatever we do is fine because Jesus paid for it anyway. That is a low and weak form of Christianity. Grace does not provide that for us. Grace gives us what we need to deal with the lower elements of our nature. The question is how?

We transition from one of the saddest and most confusing chapters in the bible to one of the most powerful. Romans chapter 8 has long been one of my most favorite sections of scripture. I believe Paul gives us the solution to the wretchedness of his Romans 7 condition in Romans 8.

We quoted the last two verses in Romans 7 at the beginning of this post. Look at the end of Romans 8.

Romans 8:37-39 (NKJV) 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul goes from being “wretched” or “miserable” to “more than a conqueror. He goes from not understanding his own behavior to being “persuaded” that nothing can separate him from the love of God. He goes from struggling with the flesh to victory over all kinds of difficulties. What happened to Paul in this chapter? What truth has he found that he wants to reveal to us?

He begins to show us in the first verse. We are very fond of quoting the first part of the verse. “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.” I believe in that statement. I believe it is very important as it stands. I must realize that my Father never condemns me. If I do not start there, the rest of what Paul tells us in Romans 8 will descend back into law. What is condemnation?

Condemnation in a legal sense is the state of a criminal when he has been tried and sentenced. He is a condemned man. He has no hope. He is going to suffer the punishment for his crime. There is no mercy in condemnation. He is judged a “criminal” and therefore something is wrong with him. He must be separated from society. In extreme cases he may be put to death because he is no longer fit for the world.

In spiritual terms, condemnation is the feeling that something is wrong with us. We may do something wrong, but condemnation always focuses on how we are wrong. It presses us to accept that we are somehow less than others. It tells us there is no hope. We have sinned because we are flawed and unworthy of God’s forgiveness. The result of condemnation is that we usually give up. We get worse because we are bad, flawed or faulty.

There is NO condemnation at all in Christ. Neither Jesus nor the Father will ever point to you as flawed or evil. Neither will ever say you are hopeless. Both the Father and Jesus love you with an everlasting love. They will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5.)

There is another related word that does apply to you and me. That word is conviction. A convicted criminal is one who has been judged guilty but not sentenced. We must realize that God will convict us of what is wrong in our lives. The difference is that he convicts of what is wrong but does not condemn us as unable to overcome it. He does not make what is wrong in our lives our identity. He shows us how to overcome the weakness of the flesh. Romans 7 is Paul convicted but not condemned.

So, there is no condemnation in Christ. None. Not any! However, that is not even the end of the sentence. He tells us how to get rid of the conviction that comes from both the devil and our own soul. There is no condemnation “to those who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

What changed Paul from wretched to more than a conqueror. What caused him to overcome all kinds of opposition in life. How did he stop doing what he did not want to do and start doing what his inner man knew was right? He learned to walk in the spirit not in the flesh. That is the solution. That is what grace provided in Christ.

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The Problem

Romans 7:15-18 (NKJV) 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.

We have been looking at one of the most important books in the New Testament. It was written by the man who understood grace better than anyone but Jesus himself. That book is the book of Romans. In our last few posts we have been examining Romans 7. I believe this is Paul’s description of his struggle with the flesh. Every believer who will be honest with himself can relate to Paul’s words in today’s verse. I like how it comes out in the New Living Translation.

Romans 7:15 (NLT2) 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

I know that describes me at times. “I don’t understand myself!” I know what is right. I want to be the best Christian I can be. I have an obligation as a teacher and a leader in the body of Christ to set an example for those around me and under me. Yet there are times when I find myself doing what I know I should not. I will rationalize my weakness. In those moments when my flesh gets control over me, I still do what I do not want to do and fail to do what I know will both please God and keep me free from giving in to the temptation before me.

There are those who have come to the conclusion that the law is the problem. We have seen in this chapter that Paul is very clear that the law is not the problem. The Law of God, especially the ten commandments, is good. It shows me my need for a savior. It defines for me what is right and what is wrong. Some believe that the solution to Paul’s dilemma is to remove the Law from any part in the New Testament Christian’s life.

However, the function of grace is not to do away with the law. The function of Grace is to help us live according to it. Paul also makes clear the truth that we cannot live according to God’s standards by keeping the letter of the law. This does not mean the do’s and do nots of the 10 commandments have become irrelevant. Thou shalt not kill still applies to us along with all the rest. Nevertheless, the change is that in salvation they are written on our hearts. Our nature changes. It is no longer against our nature to keep the law, it is our nature to keep it. This is what Paul means by the “spirit which brings life.”

In Romans seven Paul wants every believer to understand that while salvation causes an instant change in our spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) it does not automatically change the outward. We have grown up in the world. We have had experiences both good and bad that have trained us to think and act in ways that are not always in tune with God’s will or his ways.

Sometimes we simply do not know what will please God. In those instances, I think there is a great lenience in the way God Deals with us. This is true with natural parents and children. However, natural parents expect their children to grow up and become good, Godly citizens. Our heavenly Father is no different. If we remain babies simply because we do not want to grow up, that is not pleasing to God or healthy for us. The prisons are full of people who either were not trained by their parents or who refused that training.

Most of us are mature enough in the Lord to have at least some idea of what God expects. That was certainly the case with Paul in Romans 7. No one would call him immature, but he is the one who says, “I don’t understand myself.” The truth is we all have times when the flesh wins and our behavior suffers. When that happens, it is not just that we displease our Father who saved us. That is bad enough, but we also open the door to many things from the enemy. We may derive pleasure from sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25 KJV) but afterward comes guilt and the open door for satanic condemnation. God will not condemn, though he will convict, but Satan is perfectly willing to bring condemnation. 1 John 3:21 tells us that when our hearts does not condemn us we have peace with God. Our own hearts can condemn us and that is not a place we want to be.

As we continue in todays scripture, Paul makes an important statement. He says, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells.” I think in this statement, Paul is giving us the beginning of the way out of our dilemma. We must accept the fact that outside of Christ there is nothing good in our flesh. This is not condemnation. This is understanding.

That does not mean that everything about me is evil. It does not mean that everything I do that does not include praying and reading the bible is bad. It does not mean that the things I do for pleasure or enjoyment are all wrong. It means that any time the flesh controls me, it will lead me away from God and towards sin. I have to accept that when my flesh controls me it is always wrong. Always!

Of course, as Christians we know that. (At least you do now.) Even so we do what we know is wrong. We do what we do not want to do. Paul makes the true statement that if I do what I do not want to do it is not me that is doing it, it is sin that dwells within me. That is where some get the impression that Paul is saying we do not need to worry about our behavior. That is sin in me, not me. Grace takes care of that. Grace forgives it. Grace makes away for us to restore our side of the relationship, but grace does not make sin less toxic or less sinful.

Paul ends Romans 7 with a statement of which we all need to take notice.

Romans 7:24 (NKJV) 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Romans 7:24 (NLT2) 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?

A Christian dominated by the flesh is not free. In the NKJV and KJV he is described as “wretched.” In the NLT he is called miserable. The dictionary defines wretched as a person in a very unhappy or unfortunate state. That is Paul in Romans 7.

He is free from the letter of the Law by virtue of salvation. That means he does not have to keep all the rules and sacrifices laid out in the Mosaic Law as found in places like Leviticus. The old man is dead because of our identification with Christ in salvation. That is a fact.

The law is good, but the sin that dwells in my flesh takes advantage of the law, pushing me to do what I should not do. The law also shows me what is sinful. God wants us to know right from wrong. However, he is the one who wants to define which is which.

Paul finds that although the law is good he breaks it anyway. He does things that he wants to do in the short term but make him miserable in the long term. Sin uses the weakness of the flesh and he yields to that weakness causing him to “do what he does not want to do and not do what he does want to do.”

The result is a wretched or miserable person. Paul cries out, “Who will deliver me from this condition?” He gives us the answer in the next verse.

Romans 7:25 (NKJV) 25 I thank Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

Jesus will help us. He will not leave us in this condition with no way out. He has delivered us, but he is continuing to deliver us. In Romans 8 we read some of the most powerful and important revelations in the New Testament. Join me next time.

The Law is Good. Sin Working in my Flesh is the Problem

Romans 7:7-14 (NKJV) 7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. 12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. 13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.

We are looking at the book of Romans in light of salvation by grace. Let me remind all of us that Paul’s letters are not primarily evangelistic in nature. In other words, his main audience is not the unsaved person. There are many things in Paul’s writing that can be used to reach the lost, but Paul’s letters are to the church. The lessons in Romans are written for the church not the world. We need to interpret his writing with that in mind.

In Romans 7 we begin to see the practical outworking of grace in the life of the believer. Some would say that Romans 7 must be about a person who is not saved. I think if we are honest with ourselves we would have to say that all of us have been the person in this chapter.

In verses 7-12 Paul lets us know that the Law was not evil. We must be clear on that. God cannot give anything to man that is evil. Everything he has ever done towards man has been motivated by the pure love and goodness of God. That includes the law. Look at what Jesus said about it.

Matthew 5:18 (NKJV) 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

Jots and tittle are a little like periods and commas today. Jesus said not one punctuation mark of the law will ever pass away. All of it came from God and all of it is good.

Paul tells us that it was sin in man that is evil. Sin took advantage of the revelation of God’s goodness in the law and temptation came through the flesh. Temptation produced actions with bad fruit. I cannot improve on Paul’s example of how this works.

If there was no law I would not have known that covetingwas wrong. Once I understood that God’s law defined coveting as wrong, I began to want what was not mine. I envied what others had. I may have done so before, but once the law revealed it was wrong, something deeper went to work.

We might say, “Wouldn’t it have been better if God hadn’t told us these things were wrong?” It would not. We found in the first 3 chapters of Romans that we are all under the curse of sin. Romans 1 says that people are without excuse because they can see God all around them.

I have always seen verse 9 in a particular light. This is somewhat my opinion so you need to give it some though and study, but Paul says I was alive once without the law. When was he alive without the? I remember as a child knowing the presence of God in my life. My parents used to ask me to pray for things because they knew I got answers. I was under the age when children begin to understand the difference between right and wrong. I believe I was “alive” in the spirit at that point in my life.

I remember when that changed. I was in Junior high. I began to open myself to certain things. I began to be tempted in ways I was not before. I felt something change inside of me and for the first time I thought, “I don’t think I am going to heaven.” Before that day I never questioned that I was going to heaven. I was raised catholic so I was not taught the Bible like my children were, but I knew that Jesus died for my sins and I knew I was going to heaven.

What happened to me that day? Paul says it this way. “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.”

I believe that is what happened to me. In my case I was very aware something had changed. Most people probably are not. Nevertheless, everyone comes to the age when they understand right and wrong. They may not have the written Word of God in their life, but they know.

There is something else about this process. Paul says that the law has a purpose beyond being a tool sin uses to “kill us.” The Law makes sin “more sinful.” It reveals to us what God sees as wrong. It defines evil for us.

It almost seems that Romans seven is saying that if God never gave the law we would be better off. We would live in blissful ignorance. However, history and society tell us differently. Murder, thievery, lying, adultery all occur in every society whether they have the law of God or not. They are destructive and evil but those of us who do have the Law of God understand exactly what is evil about that kind of behavior. It is against the nature of God.

In the Old Testament the law was an avenue for limited relationship. Galatians in the New Testament calls it a schoolmaster that leads us to something better. Most children complain about school, but it is part of the process of becoming a responsible productive adult. Some in the church want to say that the law has no place in Christianity. That is wrong. It is not pleasant to see when or how we are wrong, but if we do not see it we will not correct it and death will find its way into our lives.

Unfortunately, even born-again people find that they are subject to temptation. If I am saved, I am a new creature. I am dead to sin. I am alive to God. I do not believe I have two natures. I am by nature a child of God. That said, I cannot honestly say I am never tempted. If I am totally honest, I know I still sin.

One of the mothers in our church was allowing her daughter to communicate with a man she met on the internet. This is very dangerous. You do not know these people. I said to her that she needed to protect her daughter. She said, “I let her call him when I am there because I know she will do it anyway and I would rather she not do it behind my back.” That is very foolish.

My children were not angels. We set standards in our home and I was aware that they did not always do what I thought they should. I did not give in and let them “sin in front of me.” I maintained the standards. I punished bad behavior. I know they did things they should not have behind my back. When they did, they knew it was something I believed was wrong and therefore bad for them. If I let them do wrong in my presence it would be confusing.

In the same way the law is there for us today. We may sin, but we know what God says is right and what he says is wrong. That provides us with the ability to always find our way back.